Professor Lisa Downing BA, MA (London) DPhil (Oxon)

Photograph of Professor Lisa Downing

Department of Modern Languages
Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality

Contact details

Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality. My work is located at the intersection of sexuality and gender studies, cultural studies, and critical theory. My research has a European, especially French, bent and also focuses on comparative European and North American contexts. My most recent publications have been on the gendering, sexualization, and othering of the figure of the murderer, and on the history of ‘perversion’ in Europe and America. I am currently working on a new project on cultural responses to “selfish women” in a range of national contexts, including Rachilde, Ayn Rand, and Margaret Thatcher.


Originally trained in modern European languages, literatures, and thought at the Universities of London and Oxford, I read for a DPhil from 1996-1999, under the supervision of the late Prof. Malcolm Bowie, on French literature and discourses of necrophilia. (This was published as Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature in 2003).  I have since worked at Queen Mary University of London and the University of Exeter, before taking up my Chair at the University of Birmingham in 2012.

In 2009, I was the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize, awarded to “outstanding scholars under the age of 36 who have made a substantial contribution to their field of study and whose future contributions are held to be of correspondingly high promise”. This prize provided me with two years of funded research leave from Exeter from 2010-2012. During the two-year period of research leave, I completed a major monograph about the gendering and othering of the figure of the murderer from 1830 to the present day, The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer, which appeared in March 2013 with the University of Chicago Press, and I worked on a co-authored book with Dr Iain Morland and Dr Nikki Sullivan about the work of the late sexologist John Money. The cheekily titled Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts has just been published, also with Chicago UP. My section of the book explores Money’s contribution to the controversial perversion/ paraphilia diagnosis.


My final year module focuses on the ways in which sexuality was constructed in nineteenth-century French and European culture in a series of inter-related discourses including medicine, the foundational texts of psychoanalysis, social theory, and literature. 

I convene the MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies. My aim is to develop teaching and research in interdisciplinary sexuality and gender studies at the University of Birmingham.

Postgraduate supervision

At Birmingham, I currently supervise the following students:

  • Jacob Hall, MA by Research in Sexuality and Gender Studies, 2016-2017; converting to PhD in spring 2017, as primary supervisor. Thesis entitled ‘Queer Theory and Fashion’.
  • Connor Murphy, PhD in Cultural Studies (Midlands 3-Cities AHRC-funded PhD, co-supervised at Nottingham Trent University and at University of Birmingham), as second supervisor, from September 2016. Thesis entitled: ‘ "Love me or kill me": Desire & Trauma in the Theatre of Sarah Kane’.
  • Abigail Nicoll, part-time MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies, University of Birmingham, 2016-2018, as primary supervisor. Dissertation entitled: ‘Young Women and the Influence of Feminism on Academic Subject Choices’.
  • Azadeh Sarjooghian, part-time MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies, University of Birmingham, 2016-2018, as primary supervisor. Dissertation entitled: ‘Resistance and Visual Strategies: The Representation of Female Identity in Contemporary Iranian Art’.
  • Gurbax Matoo, part-time PhD in Sexuality and Gender Studies, University of Birmingham, 2014-present, as primary supervisor. Thesis entitled: ‘Mothers or Monsters? A Comparative Study of South Asian and White Women Who Kill Children in the UK’.

At my previous and current institutions, I have supervised numerous PhD students on a wide range of topics, including:

  • the cultural meanings of British murder cases of the 1960s and 1980s.
  • female consciousness in the cinema
  • Katherine Mansfield’s reception in France
  • fashion and psychoanalysis
  • the ‘theatre of the absurd’ and Lacanian theories of spectatorship
  • discourses of female masochism from 1880 to the present
  • a genealogy of the ‘pin-up’.

I welcome applications from PhD students in any of my areas of interest (see ‘Research’ below), especially the following:

  • theoretical and cultural studies approaches to crime and criminality
  • historical or contemporary sexuality and gender studies
  • interrogations of feminist, queer, Foucauldian, psychoanalytic, and ethical thought.

Find out more - our PhD French Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


I research, or have researched, in the following areas:

History and theories of sexuality and gender; the interdisciplinary humanities; the medical humanities; modern critical theory (esp. Michel Foucault, ethics, queer theory, feminism, and critical approaches to psychoanalysis); cinema studies, especially the intersection of film and philosophy; French literature, culture, and thought of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

Current research

My current research projects include:

  1. a major monograph on cultural responses to “selfish women”, including Rachilde, Ayn Rand, and Margaret Thatcher;
  2. a series of publications exploring the unsung (and counterintuitive) resonances between Anglophone and French second-wave “radical” feminist texts and recent texts of queer theory, including a Special Issue of Paragraph co-edited with Dr Lara Cox;
  3. a co-written collection for Cambridge University Press on the Afterlives of Michel Foucault’s work, for which I will be editor.

In the longer term, I envisage working on a critical genealogy of the concept of “consent” in feminism and queer theory, in collaboration with Prof. Tim Dean (SUNY Buffalo).

I recently delivered my inaugural lecture at the University of Birmingham on an aspect of my new research project on “selfish women”. You can view a video of the lecture below.

Other activities

I have been a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College for the following subjects: Gender and Sexuality;  Film History, Theory, Criticism; Media and Communication; French Studies.

I am a Research Affiliate at the Centre for the History of European Discourses (CHED) at the University of Queensland, Australia.

I am a Research Associate of the Centre for Somatechnics, which originated at Macquarie University, Australia, and is now hosted at the University of Arizona, USA.

I was a founding member of the Executive Committee of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, a UK-based organisation for international researchers in nineteenth-century French Studies. I held the position of Conference Officer from 2001-2006.

I am an editor of Paragraph, the leading UK journal of critical theory.

I sit on the editorial board of INSEP: Journal of the International Network of Sexual Ethics and Politics published by Budrich journals.

I sit on the editorial board of Screen Bodies published by Berghahn.

I sit on the advisory board of the Taylor & Francis journal Psychology and Sexuality as a non-psychologist offering a theoretical arts and humanities perspective on sexuality studies.

I am member of the advisory board of Fabula–Littérature Histoire Théorie (Fabula-LHT) an online French journal of literary and cultural studies.

I sit on the peer review college of Studies in French Cinema.

I co-organize Critical Sexology, with Dr Meg John Barker (Open University) and Dr Robert Gillett (Queen Mary, University of London). This is an interdisciplinary seminar series for psychologists, psychoanalysts, medical doctors, literary and cultural studies scholars, sociologists, philosophers, artists, lawyers and historians with a critical interest in the construction and management of gender and sexuality in the medical, discursive and cultural spheres. I also co-moderate the Critical Sexology mailing list and manage the website.

See also:


Authored books

  • Downing, Lisa, Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan (co-authored), Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
  • Downing, Lisa, The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
  • Downing, Lisa and Libby Saxton (co-authored), Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters (London and New York: Routledge, 2009)
  • Downing, Lisa, The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Downing, Lisa, Patrice Leconte, French Film Directors Series (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004).
  • Downing, Lisa, Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth- Century French Literature Legenda (Oxford: EHRC, 2003). 

Edited books

  • Translation into Croatian of Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett (eds), Queer in Europe (2011): Queer u Europi (Zagreb: Zagreb Pride, 2013).
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett (eds), Queer in Europe: Contemporary Case Studies (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).
  • Downing, Lisa and Sue Harris (eds), From Perversion to Purity: The Stardom of Catherine Deneuve (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007; reissued in paperback: 2011).
  • Nobus, Dany and Lisa Downing (eds), Perversion: Psychoanalytic Perspectives/ Perspectives on Psychoanalysis (London and New York: Karnac Books, 2006). 

Edited conference proceedings

  • Harkness, Nigel, Lisa Downing, Sonya Stephens and Tim Unwin (eds), Birth and Death in Nineteenth-Century French Culiture (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007).
  • Capatanio, Sarah, Lisa Downing, Paul Rowe and Nicholas White (eds), Currencies: Fiscal Fortunes and Cultural Capital in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2005). 

Guest edited special issues of journals

  • Downing, Lisa (ed.), Special Issue of Psychology and Sexuality on 'Sex Blogging', 3:1, 2012.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett (eds), Special Issue of Sexualities, on 'European Culture/ European Queer', 15:1, 2012.
  • Cryle, Peter and Lisa Downing (eds), Special Issue of Psychology and Sexualityon 'Nature and Normality in the History of Sexuality', 1:3, 2010.
  • Cryle, Peter and Lisa Downing (eds), Special Issue of Journal of the History of Sexuality, on 'Feminine Sexual Pathologies', 18:1, 2009.

Articles in refereed journals

  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Dying for Sex: Cultural and Forensic Narratives of Autoerotic Death’, New Formations, Special Double Issue on ‘Death and the Contemporary’, ed. Georgina Colby, 89-90, 2017, 137-152.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Heteronormativity and Repronormativity in Sexological “Perversion Theory” and the DSM-5's “Paraphilic Disorder” Diagnoses’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44:4, 2015, 1139-1145.
  • Downing, Lisa 'Safewording!: Kinkphobia and Gender Normativity in Fifty Shades of Grey', Psychology and Sexuality, 2013, 4:1, 2013, 92-102.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Gendered Constructions of the Nightmare in French Nineteenth-Century Medical Writing and Fantastic Fiction', French Studies, 66:3, 2012, 331-346.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Interdisciplinarity, Cultural Studies, Queer: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Contentions in France', Paragraph, Special Issue on 'Queer Theory's Return to France', ed. Oliver Davis and Hector Kolias, 35: 2, 2012, 215-232.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Notes on a Proto-Queer Rachilde: Decadence, Deviance and (Reverse) Discourse in La Marquise de Sade', Sexualities, Special Issue on 'European Culture/ European Queer', ed. Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett, 15:1, 2012,16-27.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Reading Bitchy Jones's Diary: Sex-Blogging, Community-Building and Feminism(s)', Psychology and Sexuality, Introduction to a Special Section of a Special Issue on 'Sex Blogging', 3:1, 2012, 5-11.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett, 'Georges Bataille at the Avant-garde of Queer Theory?: Trangression, Perversion and Death Drive', Nottingham French Studies, Special Issue on 'The French Avant-garde', ed. Stephen Forcer and Emma Wagstaff, 50:3, 2011, 86-100.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘On the Fantasy of Childlessness as Death in Psychoanalysis and in Roeg’s Don’t Look Nowand von Trier’s Antichrist’, Lambda Nordica, 2:3, 2011, 49-68.
  • Downing, Lisa and Robert Gillett, 'Viewing Critical Psychology through the Lens of Queer', Psychology and Sexuality, Special Issue on 'Queer(y)ing Psychology', ed. Peter Hegarty, 2:1, 2011, 4-15.
  • Gillett, Robert and Lisa Downing, 'The Translation of Deployment/ The Deployment of Translation: The dispositifin Foucault, his Exegetes and his Translators', In Other Words: The Journal for Literary Translators,Special Issue on 'Translating Queers/ Queering Translation', ed. B. J. Epstein, No. 36, 2010, 40-53.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'John Money's "Normophilia": Diagnosing Sexual Normality in Late-Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Sexology', Psychology and Sexuality, Special Issue on 'The Natural and The Normal in the HIstory of Sexuality' ed. Peter Cryle and Lisa Downing, 1:3, 2010, 275-87.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Murder in the Feminine: Madame Lafarge and the Sexualization of the Nineteenth-Century Criminal Woman' Journal of the History of Sexuality, Special Issue on 'Feminine Sexual Pathologies' ed. Peter Cryle and Lisa Downing, 18:1, 2009, 121-37.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Reviewing the Sexual Relation: Levinas and Fim', Film-Philosophy,Special Issue on 'The Occluded Relation: Levinas and Cinema’, ed. Sarah Cooper, 11:2, 2007, 49-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Baise-moior the Ethics of the Desiring Gaze', Nottingham French Studies, special issue on 'Focalizing the Body: Recent Women's Writing and Filmmaking in France' ed. Gill Rye and Carrie Tarr, 45:3, 2006, 52-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'The Birth of the Beast: Death-Driven Masculinity in Monneret, Zola and Freud', Dix-Neuf, fully refereed online journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, no. 5, 2005, 28-46.
  • Downing, Lisa and Dany Nobus (co-authored ), 'The Iconography of Asphyxiophilia: From Fantasmatic Fetish to Forensic Fact', Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 27:3, 2004, 1-15.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'French Cinema's New Sexual Revolution: Postmodern Porn and Troubled Genre', French Cultural Studies, Special Issue on 'New Directions in French Cinema' ed. Sue Harris, 15:3, 2004, 265-80.
  • Downing, Lisa,'The Measure of Sexual Dysfunction: A Plea for Theoretical Limitlessness', Transformations: Region, Culture, Society, special issue on 'Regions of Sexuality', ed. Iain Morland and Wendy O'Brien no. 8, 2004.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt: Aesthetic Violence and Motiveless Murder in French Decadent Fiction', French Studies, 58:2, 2004, 189-204.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'On the Limits of Sexual Ethics: The Phenomenology of Autassassinophilia', Sexuality and Culture, 8:1, 2004, 3-17.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Death and the Maidens: A Century of Necrophilia in Female-Authored Textual Production', French Cultural Studies, 14:2, 2003, 157-168.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Between Men and Women; Beyond Heterosexuality: Limits and Possibilities of the Erotic in Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed and Patrice Leconte'sLa Fille sur le pont',Romance Studies, University of Swansea, 20:1, 2002, 29-40.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Feminist Fictions of the Flesh (?): Alina Reyes's Le Boucherand Rachilde's La Marquise de Sade', Journal of Romance Studies, 2:1, 2002, 51-64.

Book chapters

  • Downing, Lisa, ‘“Straight” Necrophilia as a “Queer” Perversion' in Lynne Stopkewich's Kissed', in Tainted Love; Screening Sexual Perversities, ed. Darren Kerr and Donna Perbedy (London: IB Tauris, 2017), 3-13.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Perversion and the Problem of Fluidity and Fixity’ in Clinical Encounters: Psychoanalytic Practice and Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Eve Watson (New York: Punctum, 2017), 105-126.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Where's Girlhood? The Female Child Killer and Tony Hickson's Where's Mary? (2005)’ in International Cinema and the Girl: Local Issues, Transnational Contexts, ed. Fiona Handyside & Kate Taylor (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 153-163. 
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Snuff and Nonsense: The Discursive Life of an Imaginary Archive’, in Porn Archives, ed. Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky & David Squires (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014), 249-261.
  • Downing Lisa, ‘On “Compulsory Sexuality”, Sexualization, and History’, Commissioned Afterword for The Routledge History of Sex and the Body in the West, 1500 to the Present, ed. Sarah Toulalan and Kate Fisher (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 527-533.
  • Downing, Lisa, ‘Sexual Perversion as Textual Resistance in the Writing of Rachilde and Monique Wittig’ in Modernist Eroticisms: European Literature after Sexology, ed. Anna Katharina Schaffner and Shane Weller (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 195-212.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Eros and Thanatos in European and American Sexology' in Bodies, Sex and Desire from the Renaissance to the Present,ed. Kate Fisher and Sarah Toulalan (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 201-220.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Sexual Variations' in Sexuality in the Age of Empire (1820-1920), ed. Chiara Beccalossi and Ivan Crozier, vol. 5 of A Cultural History of Sexuality,general ed. Julie Peakman (Oxford: Berg, 2011), 63-81.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Michel Foucault' in The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory, ed. Robert Eaglestone (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Criminality, Sexuality, Abnormality: Nineteenth-Century Scientific Constructions' in New Approaches to Crime in French Literature, Culture and Film, ed. Louise Hardwick, (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), 19-33.
  • Downing, Lisa,‘Beyond Safety: Erotic Asphyxiation and the Limits of S/M Discourse' in Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism ed. Darren Langridge and Meg Barker (Palgrave, 2007), 119-32.
  • Downing, Lisa,'Polanski's Deneuve: Frigidity and Feminism' in From Perversion to Purity: The Stardom of Catherine Deneuve, edited Lisa Downing and Sue Harris (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 14-28.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Perversion, Historicity, Ethics ' inPerversion: Psychoanalytic Perspectives/ Perspectives on Psychoanalysis, edited Dany Nobus and Lisa Downing (London and New York: Karnac Books, 2006), 149-163.
  • Downing, Lisa,'Thanatos' , 'Necrophilia', 'Erotic Asphyxiation', 'Charles Baudelaire', 'Pétrus Borel', in Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature, ed. Gaëtan Brulotte and John Phillips (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006).
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Sexuality' in Companion to Modern French Thought, ed. Christopher John Murray (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004), 582-7.
  • Downing, Lisa, ''Ecstasies and Agonies: The 'Oceanic Feeling', God and Sexuality in Baudelaire and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam' in (Un)Faithful Texts: Religion in French and Francophone Literature from the 1780s to the 1980s, ed. Paul Cooke and Jane Lee (New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2000) 53-66.

Review articles (over 1500 words)

  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Mandy Merck and Stella Sandford (eds), Further Adventures ofThe Dialectic of Sex: Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone(New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) in Studies in the Maternal, 4:1, 2012.
  • Downing, Lisa, 'Object-Become-Subject: When Femmes Look Back', Review of Del LaGrace Volcano and Ulrika Dahl, Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities(London: Serpent's Tale, 2008) in SQS - Journal of Queer Studies in Finland, 5:1, 2011, 63-65.
  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Rothenberg, Foster and Zizek (eds), Perversion and the Social Relation (Duke University Press, 2003) in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 36:1, 2007,127-28.
  • Downing, Lisa, Review of Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality(Chicago University Press, 2000) in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 34: 2, 2005, 255-57.